Venture For America Trains The Next Generation Of Entrepreneurs: Interview

By December 10, 2013
Six of the eight Cleveland Venture for America fellows.

Six of the eight Cleveland Venture for America fellows

Venture For America is a program that hires recent college graduates to work at startup companies, where their skills and expertise can have a major impact on a firm’s growth and development. Fellows work for two years at these companies, learning about entrepreneurship and how to run a business; the hope is these fellows will go on to run startups of their own.

Venture For America is currently operating in cities such as Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans and Cincinnati. Earlier this year, the program debuted in Cleveland, with a class of eight fellows. Jason Tarre, the Corporate Development team member for Cleveland, recently spoke with us about what the program looks for in its fellows and how it’s having an impact in Northeast Ohio and across the U.S.

Why was Cleveland a good choice for Venture For America?

When we look at each city, we look at the density of startups. Is there a strong enough community? Are there enough quality growth companies, company founders and people in the entrepreneurial community [that] the fellows [can] connect to?

We look for strong supporters in the region that we can go to for introductions and that can be our point of contact at first. We want supporters at the city level and regional level that actively want Venture For America in their community.

What sort of companies are good fits for this program?

It can be anything from consumer internet to healthcare IT to 3D printing and manufacturing. We’re mainly looking at three areas. Do we think that the founders and management team [are] a strong team with a real problem that they’re solving for through their company? Do we think that it’s a company where the fellow will have the opportunity to contribute?  And do we think that the company could help the fellow become a better business builder and get on the path to entrepreneurship?

What are the characteristics of successful fellows?

We look for success in multiple disciplines. They’re incredibly high-capacity; they’re incredibly capable and incredibly ambitious and driven to make an impact. A positive of the millennial generation is a desire to make an impact and do well by serving others; [it’s] one of the ways we distinguish ourselves as a fellowship program. We want to work with young people that want to work in startups and who are good people with great character and high integrity.

The program itself is very young, but what sort of progress or success are you seeing?

There’s an embeddedness that we’re starting to see in some of our communities. Four of our fellows started a nonprofit to help teach entrepreneurship to middle schoolers. That program started in Detroit and New Orleans, and continues to expand to other VFA cities. Having worked in startups, and working with Venture for America now, I find a lot of value in the entrepreneurial way of thinking. It’s great to see that starting to spread to other cities around the country at a really young age.

Other milestones that come to mind are a group of fellows in Detroit that raised money to buy a house and are rehabbing it and are turning it into a home for future fellows to come and live in and serve as the kind if unofficial HQ for the fellows in Detroit. It’s exciting to see them putting down roots.

Listen to a podcast with Venture For America COO Eileen Lee, Cleveland fellow Mehves Tangun and Paragon Robotics CEO Julian Lamb

Annie Zaleski

Annie Zaleski is part of the communications team at the Cleveland-based nonprofit venture development organization JumpStart Inc., which provides intensive business assistance and sometimes direct investment to high potential, seed-stage tech businesses to accelerate their growth. At JumpStart, she applies her decade-plus of professional writing and editing experience to thought leadership, blogging, press outreach, social media, client company support and other strategic initiatives. A graduate of Harvard University, she is especially passionate about blogging, social media, content management, branding and rock & roll.